Throughout history, masks have been used to cover the human face for a variety of different reasons. They have been donned for protection from airborne diseases (such as we are using them today), to disguise one’s true identity, for entertainment purposes or even ritual practices.

From the very beginning of time, they have been constructed from various materials – from cloth to leather to wood – depending on the use, the purpose and the desired effect.  They have been dyed, painted and even carved all in the name of practicality, beauty and adornment.

The past tells us that the earliest use of masks was for rituals and ceremonies, and the oldest masks found date back to 7000 BC. The art of making masks may date back in time even further, but because some of the earliest materials used by mask-makers, such as leather, did not survive to modern times for us to examine.

In the intervening centuries, masks were used to ward off the plague, the black death and other maladies that could be spread by water droplets or via noxious fumes created by rotting food and vermin and diseased individuals.  Even the great influenza pandemic of 1918 was only abated after people stayed home, wore masks and the growing world population eventually succumbed to herd immunity.

Up until recently, I had only ever worn a mask when I had gone skiing (sure, it was only once and I was run-over on a bunny slope by a British tourist – OUCH), or when I was pre-med for a hot minute and wore it during my volunteer shifts at Shand’s Hospital.  But now, I wear them daily in the name of good health and have decided that they are as much about function as fashion as they are meant for showing off a bit.

Now, masks and face coverings are everywhere and even though we are having a challenging time getting people to wear them whenever they are out in public and in crowds, some are embracing the practice and the high fashion that has come along with it.  Currently, I own about ten different masks – several are branded for our Chamber (thank you Martin Morcillo), a few are UF/Gator related (thank you Alicia) and yet two others have been made for me by folks whose own masks I have admired. I also have the surgical-looking ones that I invariably wear inside-out and upside-down, but I find those more about function and well, they don’t last as long or do well in the hot dryer.

In a time of being socially distant and more physically disconnected, masks may be the most important antidote to us coming back together – at least until a vaccine or more efficacious treatment is found.  So, why not take advantage of this moment and don your favorite mask in the name of Dr. Fauci.  Show off your true colors and fave brands, like a road-side billboard strapped across your face.  Embrace your logo, showcase your product or service, or as I saw earlier this week, wear one with your favorite candidate for County Commission silk-screened upon it.  I mean, there really is no current mask etiquette that I know of, Martha Stewart has not opined as of yet, so it is what you make of it. The slate is blank – well, at least your face mask is.

We have all learned to hide behind a metaphorical mask for years – but maybe it is more of displaying a poker face or stiff upper lip.  Now, we fall in love based on the color, shape and brightness of eyes only and we no longer care how big your nose is, if your skin is overly ruddy, pimply or wrinkly, how much you are in need of orthodontic work or even if your breath is not fresh. You are, in many ways, a different version of your true self, and well, we like it.  No, wait, we love it!

I am also going to start a cool, new, local game, too – trading your masks (clean versions only, please) – leading to a unique collection of your own and showing off the businesses of others.  I love the ones made by The Biltmore Hotel, Bulla Gastrobar, Threefold Café and Bachour Bakery, just to name a few.  Let’s get to collecting and sharing and wearing the brands of others in great support in this time of recovery.

Now is the moment to un-mask your fears, embrace and don our face masks and celebrate the growing creativity of a mask-erade all in the name of good health and hope!

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